June 2010: Audit Commission Inspection

The publication of the Audit Commission’s inspection report on Sussex police notes:

Sussex Police Authority (the Authority) is performing adequately overall and improving. The Authority is influential in ensuring that Sussex Police (the Force) has the leadership, capacity and capability needed to deliver good quality service. Its effective recruitment to senior appointments has helped ensure that the Force is led in line with the Authority’s desired local policing style. Its Chief Officer appointments have driven improvement to Sussex policing in the past two years

Perhaps this welcome improvement in quality will produce increased transparency about its past activities and some of the high profile mistakes the force has been associated with.

Accountability

The public is entitled to demand a proper review of the investigation which took place twelve years ago. The investigating team was led by Jeremy Paine. He decided, at a very early stage in the investigation, that Siôn Jenkins was guilty. That obsessive certainty led investigators to ignore vital clues, resulting in a failure to follow up and interview other credible suspects.

During the long legal battle which followed, vast public resources were invested in trying to prove that the police had been right all the time.

Siôn Jenkins’ conviction for murder was overturned in 2004. The forensic science which had been the bedrock of the original conviction was discredited and disproved. Undeterred, the prosecution changed tack, sweeping aside aside the value of scientific evidence and relying instead on character assassination. As late as March 2005 the police were busy in Hastings, trying to dredge up incriminating details of Siôn Jenkins’ movements in February 1997.

No expense was spared in supporting prosecution activity, and in ensuring the involvement of Lois Jenkins in the two subsequent retrials.

Yet in all that time no effort was invested in revisiting the evidence to try to uncover the truth of what really took place on 15 February 1997.

The bizarre and crucial fact that, during the fatal attack, a piece of black bin-liner had been forcefully rammed into Billie-Jo’s nasal cavity was simply ignored. It came into the public domain only at the time of the second appeal in 2004. The prosecution at the retrials, unable to explain how this fitted into its already-tenuous narrative of Siôn Jenkins as the killer, simply played down its significance.

That single inexplicable detail itself would today be reason enough for the police to be continuing their investigations. Yet there are other avenues they are choosing to ignore. Information sent to them since the acquittal has not been followed up.

Disturbing complacency

On 20 March 2006 a Sussex Police statement said the force had been commended by Mr Justice David Clarke for its investigation into Billie-Jo’s murder in February 1997, and that there had been “no judicial criticism” of its conduct. It repeated previous comments that the case would be subject to regular review in case any new and compelling evidence comes to lightî but added, tellingly “No such new evidence had yet emerged.”

This amounted to the familiar ‘not looking for anyone else’ response which often follows the collapse of a prosecution.

In the case of Siôn Jenkins the question has to be : Why not?

The complacency of Sussex police about this case was shocking. Its claim that there was no judicial criticism of its conduct was undermined by two verifiable facts:

At the original trial in 1998, the judge criticised the way the police had handled the interview in March 1997 at which prejudicial information about qualifications and alleged violence was fed to his daughters. They were told by police that it was likely their father had killed Billie-Jo. That interview took place with the consent,and in the presence of their mother, but in the absence of the family’s social worker who should have been present as an impartial advocate for the children,there to protect their best interests.

At the first appeal the judges in their summing up said that they agreed with the trial judge, and would be inclined to express our concerns about this aspect of the investigation rather less circumspectly ’. In other words, they felt that concern should have been more explicitly stated.

That pivotal interview, at such an early stage in the investigation, had consequences which influenced events over the next nine years and still cast a long shadow today.

A need for integrity

The behaviour of Sussex police at that time warrants close examination. Their actions in the early stages led to a costly and protracted legal process. In the interests of justice and transparency nothing less will do.

Since 1997 Sussex police have been involved in three major high profile miscarriages of justice and two seriously mishandled cases. Charges of incompetence and negligence have been made and proved.

During the precise time they were investigating the Jenkins case, Sussex police were enmeshed in a variety of events for which they were censured. These included the cases of:

  • Sheila Bowler, falsely accused of murder.
  • Richard Watson, murdered in 1996. His widow Linda eventually received an apology from Sussex police after being falsely charged with his murder.
  • James Ashley, who was shot dead in January 1998. A public apology has since been given to his family.
  • Jay Abatan, murdered in January 1999. Two external police forces and the Independent Police Complaints Commission found serious flaws with the investigation. Disciplinary charges followed.

Described in a report by Kent police as a force in which there was systemic failure, Sussex police still need to acknowledge that past. In 1998 the late Sir John Hoddinott, Chief Constable of Hampshire police, which investigated Sussex police, said of senior officers in the force An arguable case of attempting to pervert the course of justice might be made out

It is disturbing that one of those officers remained an Assistant Chief Constable of Sussex police until 2006, even after the discovery by Hoddinott of prima facie evidence of his

  • misfeasance
  • falsehood and prevarication
  • aiding and abetting Paul Whitehouse in falsehood.

The force which investigated the Billie-Jo Jenkins murder was led by the discredited Chief Constable Paul Whitehouse, who was eventually forced to resign over the killing of James Ashley. He presided over a regime characterised by its capacity to bend the truth to suit its needs.

Siôn Jenkins continues to suffer the consequences of its deeds and Billie-Jo’s killer evades detection.

In July 2004, just before this website was forced to close down temporarily, the following statement appeared:

“Much is now at stake for Sussex police over the Jenkins case. Reputations are on the line and there are those whose credibility looks increasingly fragile. No-one should underestimate the efforts which will go into resisting Siôn Jenkins’ attempt to obtain the justice he has so far been denied.

Equally powerful, though, is the determination to reveal the truth which will set Siôn Jenkins free.”

Siôn Jenkins was, indeed, set free on 9 February 2006, but today the full truth still remains to be told.